from the Desk of Alison Prost Summer 2015

Water Quality Testing Reveals Startling Results 

One of the most popular swimming holes in Harford County is Kilgore Falls. On hot, humid summer days, you'll find bathers of all ages cooling off in its water. It's a beautiful setting, with a large waterfall, and tall, overhanging trees offering respite from the sun. (The picturesque scene was even featured in the Disney movie, Tuck Everlasting.)  

Professor Tami Imbierowicz of Harford Community College oversees her daughter Stephanie as she takes a water sample at Kilgore Falls in Harford County.

Professor Tami Imbierowicz of Harford Community College oversees her daughter Stephanie as she takes a water sample at Kilgore Falls in Harford County. Photo by Tom Zolper/CBF Staff.

Water quality testing waterbottle. Photo by Tom Zolper.

A water sampling bottle. Photo by Tom Zolper/CBF Staff.

A bather wades into the pool at Kilgore Falls in Harford County. Photo by Tom Zolper.

A bather wades into the pool at Kilgore Falls in Harford County. Photo by Tom Zolper/CBF Staff.

But after a rainstorm, the natural pool at Kilgore Falls and many other informal swimming places might not be so great a place to submerge yourself in. Even 48 hours after a heavy downpour in early June, the bacteria count in the Kilgore water was nearly 50 times higher than safety limits established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

This summer, we've partnered with three colleges to conduct water quality tests at about 18 fresh water creeks and lakes in Frederick, Harford, and Howard Counties. The purpose is to see if polluted runoff from farms and suburban and city landscapes is impacting water quality in those waters. Sadly, the preliminary results suggest that's exactly what's happening. 

This is not altogether surprising. Water testing has been going on for years in tidal waters where people swim in places such as Anne Arundel County. The results are unequivocal: After rainstorms, bacteria levels spike as pollution from pet waste, leaking septic systems, and other sources washes off the land and into nearby waters. 

But testing in counties at a distance from the Bay is rare, and almost never after storms when bacteria levels usually rise. Residents in places such as Frederick, Howard, and Harford might think, therefore, that their beautiful freshwater streams and rivers aren't polluted like the Chesapeake.  

That's why CBF partnered with Hood College in Frederick County, as well as Howard Community College, and Harford Community College, to take water samples after rainstorms this summer. The sampling sites include some informal swimming holes, as well as other recreational areas where residents might fish or boat. Some sites also are just scenic streams that run through parks or neighborhoods. 

The sampling will continue through the rest of the summer. Results so far indicate many sites are safe 48 hours after a storm, including most of Columbia's lakes. But results from some sites are troubling. 

Most sites in Frederick County, for instance, have elevated bacteria levels even during dry times. Those levels spike well over healthy standards after storms. For instance, Glade Creek that runs through the small town of Walkersville had bacteria readings 61 times higher than levels the EPA considers safe for all types of recreational contact with the water, including frequent swimming. Those levels doubled or tripled after rain storms of at least one-half inch of rain. The stream is used by trout fishermen, among other uses. You can follow our results and further updates here. 

—Alison Prost
Maryland Executive Director
Chesapeake Bay Foundation

URGENT: The Chesapeake Bay Executive Council is meeting July 23 to discuss important Bay restoration issues. Send a message right now to your governor and EPA before they meet, urging them to step up and fully commit to the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint.

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